History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview
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Ideology and Tactics

Judged in the light of reason, a union whose dues-paying membership in 1912 for the whole of the I.W.W., according to Vincent St. John, was only 25,000, could not be viewed as becoming the agency for the transformation of American society. But the Congressional Commission on Industrial Relations correctly observed that although the I.W.W.'s membership was small, "as a 'spirit and a vocabulary' [it] permeates to a large extent enormous masses of workers, particularly among the unskilled and migratory laborers." In its own eyes the I.W.W. represented the "militant minority" whose activity made the small organization a force out of all proportion to its actual membership. The "militant minority," it thought, was "the real driving force in the labor movement of every country,"and in the United States, it would prove to be the force to mobilize the American workers both for short-term struggles and for the ultimate battle for a new social system. "We are the Revolution!" Haywood wrote in 1912, in an article entitled "The Fighting I.W.W."1*


The duty of the "militant minority" was to promote class­consciousness and solidarity among the workers, fostering in them a revolutionary spirit. This could be accomplished in two ways: education in theory and education in class warfare. In this way, the workers would become conscious of their power, would learn the class nature of the capitalist state, gain greater insight into the nature of the class sruggle, and increase their solidarity. Such an education, the I.W.W. believed, was essential before

The doctrine of the "militant minority' was a leading feature of European anarcho-syndicalism. Not all I.W.W. members favored the doctrine, believing that the idea of a revolutionary elite went counter to the principle of democratic trade unionism. However, Haywood and most of the other leaders of the I.W.W. endorsed the principle of the "militant minority." (See W. D. Haywood, The General Strike, Chicago, 1911, pp. 11-12.)


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